Mind the Perception Gap when Communicating Major Announcements


A proper focus on stakeholder needs—and expected perceptions—is paramount when communicating major corporate events. Research In Motion’s (RIM) recent announcement of its new CEO is a prime example of the role emotion can play in how announcements are received, interpreted and reverberated through various communications channels.

In the face of plunging sales and increased competition, RIM recently replaced co-Chief Executive Officers Jim Balsillie and Mike Lazaridis with Thorsten Heins, a chief operating officer who joined RIM four years ago from Siemens AG. However, during his first conference call, Heins told analysts not to expect “seismic changes” and ruled out splitting up the company. Analysts and investors were not impressed, and they proved it with their dollars. RIM’s stock price, which had lost 3/4ths of its value over the prior year, dropped an additional 9% on the day of the announcement (Monday, January 23), and another 3% the following day.

The board of directors certainly had enough faith to appoint Heins to the position, but the confidence did not translate during the CEO’s introduction. For the outside world, this was yet another misstep:

A change in leadership is an ideal opportunity to lay out clear goals, strategies and expectations, particularly in the face of lagging stock performance and very public mistakes. However, past missteps built up an emotional expectation among stakeholders, shareholders in particular, which manifested itself in the media coverage when the company didn’t empathize with their emotional need for major change.

The conservative manner in which RIM communicated this and other recent events left outsiders with general doubts about the future of the company and its ability to enact or even recognize the change needed. With stronger attention to executive comments, RIM could have talked about the future and instilled faith in the new management. But, they failed to mind the perception gap.

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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